Eating spicy chile peppers tied higher chances of a longer lifespan
Growing up, my mom challenged me to eat a whole pickled jalapeno pepper for $100. We both knew that at age 7, I was unlikely to risk eating the spicy snack, further evidenced by the fact that when I was a teenager that enjoyed spicy food, the bounty was canceled. Despite any possible injustice in this arrangement, she may have had my best interests at heart, because training me to eat spicy foods has likely been good for my health. An analysis of 16,000 adults has found that people who had eaten hot chile peppers (but not powder) were simply less likely to die than those that kept to blander food. Nobody is saying that this proves that chiles can save your life yet, but if these findings hold true, it’s certainly a win-win situation.
Likelihood for longevity
The correlation researchers found was simple, if a bit crudely defined. People were surveyed about their diets, then tracked to see how much longer they lived in the following 19 years. Anyone who said they’d eaten a chile pepper even once in the month before they were surveyed were lumped into the “chile-eating” category. Even when controlling for other factors, like education level, ethnic background, lifestyle, etc, being a chile-eater was correlated with a significantly lower chance of mortality. After 19 years, only 22 percent of pepper consumers had died, versus 34 percent of folks that kept to tamer diets.
This correlation is not proof that chile peppers are a magically tasty elixir of good health, of course. However, it does seem to hold up against other studies looking at similar trends. While this study focused on people in western countries, a study from China has also made a connection between spicy peppers and lower mortality rates.
Modeling specific mechanisms
It may be hard to definitively prove that chile peppers extend lives, because that would require a double-blind study involving some amazing placebo that can replicate the experience of eating chile peppers. In the mean time, researchers might instead focus on pinning down possible mechanisms that could somehow be tied to these extended lifespans. Current hypothesis include ideas like capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives peppers their spice, may somehow interact with our bodies to protect against obesity and lower our chances of heart disease. Or the capsaicin may achieve those benefits, but through interactions with our microbiomes. Or chiles may just function as delicious multivitamins, since they’re packed with B and C vitamins, plus compounds that help our vitamin A supply.
Either way, it’s nice to see my kids already trying out the mild salsa when we have tacos for dinner, since it seems that hot peppers should be part of any well-balanced diet.
Source: Could Eating Chili Peppers Help You Live Longer? by Stephanie Bucklin, Live Science